Language is one of the biggest pillars of identity, and the Irish are fierce when it comes to defending theirs. I believe that their efforts in keeping their language alive and healthy are failing. I will sum up in a few sentences why I think this is so, and attempt to provide a solution. Irish people’s handle of the language is poor for the most part, it’s more of a middle-class game rather than a serious affair. What schools teach is not really what they claim to teach, it’s an artificial creation based on the Irish language, but native Irish speakers don’t speak school Irish. The Irish language comes in many dialects associated to the regions of that country, this is lost when teaching a homogenized version in school. Its complete absence in daily life makes it a burden for most learners, and the vast majority of people see it as a valueless annoyance. Regardless of how closely my understanding reflects the reality of the situation, what matters is that Irish is slowly losing ground, and it’s an uphill battle when English is the other choice. The story is the same in most of Europe. I can trace my ancestry back to North-West Italy in the Piedmont, and Piedmontese is only spoken by the elders and a handful of youngsters trying to keep the flame.

My proposed solution is centered around the usage of native Irish speakers as “carriers of the flame” to start a snowball effect throughout the country, this would be applicable to any place that finds itself in the same conundrum. According to the 2016 census there were 20,586 native Irish speakers in Ireland at that time, if we define as native speakers those who use the language daily. If native Irish speakers were to maintain replacement-level birthrates, and they spoke Irish to their children in the home, that would secure the existence of the language for ever. I doubt that these conditions are met, but I believe we can be more ambitious than that; the Irish language could become more prominent, and play a more central role in society if that is wished.

The best outcome would be to restore the language as it was prior to English influence, but this seems an impossible goal. A core tenet of my proposal is that Irish education would be voluntary, it won’t be imposed against people’s will at school. The main focus would be to teach youngsters, beginning at any age. Interested adults would also be able to learn. Teachers would ideally be native speakers, if not, they’d be highly proficient. The vast majority would then be from the Gaeltacht, and they would be dispersed throughout the island in such a way that all areas are covered. Naturally, a teacher from Donegal would be more likely to choose to stay in Donegal rather than go elsewhere, thus the places with a strong base of Irish speakers will retain their own dialects. The distribution could be done in many ways, an example would be to use three latitude bands and the Gaeltacht. The southern parts of the country would borrow teachers from Munster. The middle third, all the way to Dublin, would borrow from Connacht, and the north would benefit from the natives in Ulster. Being a foreigner, I am not familiar with more natural ways to go about distributing teachers, but I’ll leave that to people more acquainted with the history of the language.

The main issue is that, likely, most qualified teachers know school Irish and not the real thing. Summed in a sentence, the problem is reduced to setting up a system where the teaching body of the language is proficient in living Irish, in the sociolinguistic sense of the word. I believe that a competent European government should be able to set up such a system in no more than ten years. If we go by how the Irish government has been acting in unrelated affairs in the last few decades, the average Irish man and woman seems to be the last priority. In those European countries that claim to defend endangered regional languages the failure is embarrassingly salient, and this outcome suggests a near-complete absence of government, whose role seems to be that of saying platitudes. Let it be known that if Irish dies, it will have been killed.

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